The historic centre of Prague is something magnificent, with stunning buildings, an impressive castle and one of the most famous bridges in the world. Since 1992 it is part of the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO.
The centre of the Prague is crossed by the country’s longest river, the Vltava. It has 435 km, its source is found in the Bohemian region and the mouth is located a few kilometres north of the Czech capital. The river splits Prague into two banks.
On one side, Malá Strana, where the castle is found, and Hradcany. On the other bank, Staré Mesto (the old town – the medieval area), Nové Mesto (the new town), Josefov (Jewish quarter) and Vysehrad.
The Old Town
The square of the old town is the oldest and most important of the historic centre of Prague. It started, in the 10th century, as a trading post for the European trading routes. The bourgeoisie funded this area in order to compete with the Cathedral, located on the other side of the river.
It had bakers, potters, herbalists, gingerbread makers and several other artisans who would sell what they produced. Mushrooms, strawberries, cakes, fish and many other things were also sold.
A few centuries later, in addition to being an important economic centre, the square became part of people’s daily lives, due to the establishment of the Town Hall and the Church Of Our Lady before Týn. Tragic events also took place in this area, such as uprisings and public executions. I must emphasize the execution of 27 Czechs who rebelled against the Habsburg Dynasty. If you look at the ground of the square you will see 27 crosses, in a tribute to the 27 deceased.
The square has undergone several changes over the years, but it still is a beautiful and absolutely unmissable place when visiting Prague. This place has already witnessed several historic events.
All buildings of the old town’s square are mesmerizing. Right below, I stress those that can be regarded as the most important.
Pick a nice café and sit outside. Thoroughly behold all the buildings in the square.
Old Town Hall
The Town Hall building was created in 1338 and its initial purpose was to be the headquarters of the town’s administration. Some years later, a tower was added to the south and then its façade welcomed the astronomical clock in 1410.
This watch is one of the most emblematic points of Prague. It is one of the world’s oldest and more elaborate. In addition to telling the time, it also shows the moon phases and movement of the stars… It’s a monument to sky observation.
If you are interested in knowing everything about the astronomical clock then read the piece I exclusively wrote about it.
Church of Our Lady before Týn
The Church of Our Lady before Týn is one of Prague’s most impressive gothic buildings. It is easily recognizable due to its black towers, which have different heights.
Its construction started in the 14th century, in a place where an old Romanesque building was located, which lodged traders from abroad. This temple is located next to the courtyard of Týn, hence its name. The courtyard of Týn was the place where taxes on the goods sold in Prague were charged.
For a long time, the Church of Our Lady before Týn was a place of Hussism worship, a reforming movement started by Jan Hus. This temple has been part of the Catholic Church since the 18th century.
The church was renewed several times over the years, but it keeps its grace, therefore the inside thoroughly justifies a visit. You can find the tomb of the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and the oldest organ in Prague (1673).
St. Nicholas Church
The St. Nicholas Church was the most prominent in the old town, before the edification of Church of Our Lady before Týn. It was taken by the Benedictine monks during the counter-reformation movement and was later rebuilt in Baroque style.
Inside of it lies a stunning décor and murals depicting the life of St. Nicholas and also of St. Benedict. Also impressive is the candelabra offered by Tsar Nicholas II.
We can attend classical music performances, in the evening, at St. Nicholas church.
Some extremely old buildings have already occupied the same spot where today we can find the Kinský Palace. The Rococo palace that we can currently see was built in the 18th century for Count Jan Arnos Golts. After he passed away, the palace was bought by the prominent Kinský family, who lived in it until 1949. After that it became a property of the National Gallery.
The Kinský Palace has already been a plateau for quite interesting things, among them:
- The 1st woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was born there;
- It was a school of German grammar, having in the famous Frank Kafka one of its students;
- Klement Gottwald spoke from its balcony, something that led to a coup d’état.
The palace’s façade has white and pink hues, standing out a little bit from the other buildings in the square.
Stone Bell House
The Stone Bell House is a gorgeous example of gothic architecture in Prague, having been edified in the 13th century. It is believed that it was built as a palace for the royal family, for Elisabeth of Bohemia.
The name emerged a bit after, due to the existence of a stone bell, a replica of what we can now see in the corner of the house.
The house’s façade was changed several times, but an attempt to retrieve its original form was conducted in the 20th century. Fortunately that is what we can see today.
The interior of the house has been an exhibition gallery since 1988, as well as a bookstore and a café.
Monument to Jan Hus
There’s a monument made of stone and bronze conducted by the Czech sculpture Ladislav Šaloun, in the old town square. It’s an interesting Art Noveau endeavour, and something unmissable in this place.
The figure towering the whole monument is the one of Jan Huss, a religious philosopher and reformer. He launched a movement that would later be known as Hussism, posing strong criticism against the Catholic Church. He was excommunicated and burned alive at the stake. The monument itself shows Huss in an upright position, glancing the Church of Our Lady before Týn. During his life, this church became Hussite.
Groups of people are also part of the statue, the fighters, and, on the opposite side, another group of humiliated individuals, depicting those who had to go into exile after the Battle of the White Mountain.
This work was completed in 1915.